Scientists discovered 15,000-year-old viruses frozen in a Tibetan glacier, with 28 of the 33 viruses detected being previously unknown to humans.
Using a combination of standard and unique approaches, researchers discovered that the ice was nearly 15,000 years old. While studying the ice, they uncovered the genetic blueprints for 33 viruses. The scientific community has already found four of these viruses. However, at least 28 of them are new.
"These glaciers were formed gradually, and along with dust and gases, many, many viruses were also deposited in that ice," said Zhi-Ping Zhong, the study's lead author and a researcher at the Ohio State University. "The glaciers in western China are not well-studied, and our goal is to use this information to reflect past environments. And viruses are a part of those environments," he added.
Matthew Sullivan, the study's co-author, said the viruses have gene signatures that let them infect cells in frigid temperatures and are unusual genetic markers that explain how a virus may thrive in such hostile environments.
The study's conclusions were published in the journal Microbiome. The most prevalent genera identified in two Tibetan Plateau ice cores were Janthinobacterium, Polaromonas, Herminiimonas, Flavobacterium, Sphingomonas, and Methylobacterium. The microbial communities in the two ice cores were vastly different, owing to changes in climate during deposition.
The Science Daily reports Zhi-Ping Zhong said the goal is to use the obtained information to reflect historical ecosystems because the glaciers in western China have not been properly investigated. Depending on the environment and known virus databases, the scientists determined that the viruses most likely originated in soil or plants rather than animals or humans.
USA Today reports, the study's senior author Lonnie Thompson said, "We know very little about viruses and microbes in these extreme environments and what is actually there.'' He added, "The documentation and understanding of that is extremely important."
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